Digital

Small U.S. Towns Turn to Social Media to Help Drive Tourism

Apr 02, 2014 6:00 am

Skift Take

Southern Indiana is focused on a drive market and therefore has the ability to target its message to a specific traveler. Keeping track of local memes and news will help the brand become more relevant to local weekend travelers.

— Samantha Shankman

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Glorius Gaduang  / Flickr

The balloon festival is one of the most photographed events that takes place in Louisville. Glorius Gaduang / Flickr


Southern Indiana’s tourism bureau is tossing its old marketing plan in favor of one that will launch it into the year 2014.

The Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau plans to increase its digital presence — especially focusing on social media — to draw visitors into Southern Indiana, new Executive Director Jim Epperson said.

“The idea of sharing in the old days was, ‘Come over to my house and look at my slideshow,’ and now, it’s all posted online,” Epperson said. “People still like to tell the story of their trip and share it.”

He said the most important part of the new marketing plan is a seven-step travel planning process, beginning from the inspiration of traveling to a certain destination, and ending with sharing the trip with others.

“We’re trying to find touchpoints to interact with, to reach and to influence potential visitors at every step of the process,” he said of the plan, which uses specific media forms best tailored for each of these touchpoints.

Epperson said an assistant director of marketing and sales position was created to help in looking for and promoting events, specials and attractions in Clark and Floyd counties — a job that will require a solid grasp on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said he recently met with Epperson to talk about the new marketing plan and likes what he heard about the renewed digital presence.

“I think the social media aspect is certainly something the city of Jeffersonville has seen a lot of benefits from,” Moore told the News and Tribune.

Roger Baylor, co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany, one of the many craft-making businesses that attract tourists, said that the use of social media will be very beneficial in bringing visitors, especially now that Facebook has a lot more users in older demographics.

“I think that, of course, is probably overdue,” he said, of implementing social media. “I think it could be very useful.”

Baylor also said he doesn’t think the Sunny Side of Louisville brand that the bureau has had for the past 30 years appeals much anymore and hopes to see some fresh ideas coming from the bureau.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing them livening that up a little bit,” he said, of the Sunny Side branding.

The bureau will continue to reach out to many cities close by that they have in the past, such as Indianapolis.

“Most of our business is going to come from the 100-, 150-mile drive market, but we will look out to 250 miles,” he said. “Our priorities will be the closer-in ones … That’s pretty typical in the Midwest. We are a weekend getaway … drive-to destination.”

Unlike before, the bureau will also focus south of the Indiana border, marketing in cities such as Elizabethtown, Ky. and Nashville.

“We will ultimately try to market with a message in a way that drives overnight stays, but we also know we’re going to generate some day trips, and that’s OK too,” Epperson said. “That’s still spending in the local economy that wouldn’t have happened.”

Epperson said the bureau plans on working more with the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau to advertise attractions and events across the river, both through the Internet and through print advertising.

“We can get people to stay in our hotels and do attractions there and do attractions here,” he said. “The visitors really don’t care about this border. As a matter of fact, most visitors would think it’s cool to do something in one state and do something in another state.”

Although Epperson said they won’t be spending money to advertise locally — money that comes entirely from a 4 percent room sales tax on hotels and motels in Clark and Floyd counties — residents can still benefit from the bureau’s use of social media and other digital components.

“(We’re) making sure that we’ve got a really top notch website that is also a resource for locals,” he said, adding that many residents interact with visitors over the Internet, answering questions about attractions or events in the area.

Moore said cities such as Covington, Ky. — across the river from Cincinnati — have set good examples for Jeffersonville, proving that they can hold their own and attract tourists.

“I think we’ve got the opportunity to do the same thing,” he said.

A campaign that Epperson said he hopes to launch is something called My Sunny Side, which plays off of visitors’ natural desire to show some slides, or nowadays share a photo album on Facebook — telling the story of a place.

“It’s trying to get past this laundry list approach to advertising the destination — ‘Come here because we have this, this, this and this,’ and that may not mean anything to anybody,” Epperson said. “What do you take home? … Mostly it’s stories.

“What we’re trying to do is convey some of those stories during those earlier stages from inspiration through planning and look for ways to tell the story of an attraction from a very personal standpoint.”

Some of these stories could be about the Hubers or the Schimpffs, who own locally famous businesses and who have a story to tell about their families’ trades.

To figure out Southern Indiana’s identity and what visitors think of their stays, the bureau is conducting a visitor profile study and image study, with results due in the first quarter of 2015.

The study will determine who the average tourist is and whether their stay in Clark and Floyd counties matched up to their expectations.

Until then, Epperson said he isn’t sure whether the bureau will stick with the Sunny Side of Louisville branding.

Patrick Gregory, general manager of the Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel in Jeffersonville, said that he is looking forward to a new perspective coming from the tourism bureau.

“I think that Jim brings a load of experience with working with communities like ours,” he said. ” … It’ll be interesting to see how a little bit of a mindset change plays out. I’m excited to have a fresh set of eyes and a new set of ideas.”

Ultimately, Epperson said his goal is not just to bring in visitors but to foster a community that naturally welcomes others.

“I think the marketing and the branding that we do helps influence where people choose to live and where people choose to start a business,” he said. “We’re trying to be more than just that marketing organization — trying to be at the table and be a part of those discussions regarding everything having to do with economic development.”

Moore said that the bureau has been “enormous” to Jeffersonville, but he also has high hopes in what’s to come.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Jim Epperson,” Moore said. “His job isn’t something you necessarily see real visibly. It sounded like he had a very aggressive approach in trying to promote a lot of the things around the city.”

Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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